Making smart adult contemporary without sounding like a watered down soft rocker isn’t as easy as it once was, but Jon Dowling manages to make it look all too simple in his new single “Don’t Wanna Own the World,” which is stirring up quite a storm in the American underground at the moment thanks to the signature velvety croon of its star performer. Dowling has been making music for a lot of years now, and despite having been in the industry for over a decade, he doesn’t show even the slightest signs of tiring out in this latest release, which might be his most profoundly emotional yet.
The piano parts are awash with reverb and, in a couple of isolated incidents, spill into the percussive track without any consideration for the stability of the beats, but I don’t know that I would go as far as to say that their arrangement in marred with overindulgence. Dowling doesn’t lean too heavily on the keys in creating a frame for his lyricism; rather than stacking all of his chips on one side of the table, he spreads out the chilling harmonies and exploits their mild mannered ways for every stitch of melodicism that he can derive from them.
Compared to the tenacious vocal, the drums are actually pretty tame, but they’ve got just as much texture as any other element in the track does. I get the idea that Dowling wants to engage us with much more than his lyrics alone in this piece; there’s too much energy in the strings, vitality in the keys and devastatingly affective emotion in the drums for me to think anything differently. His devotion to the smallest of details is commendable, especially in this age of streamlined simplicities that often rob us of organic tonality and its lustrous micro-facets.
This master mix has got to be one of the most defined and meticulously constructed of any that I’ve heard all year, both in the mainstream and in the underground. There’s never a moment where we struggle to figure out the point of origin for any particular component in the song, and you could even describe the presentation as having more in common with an intimate live performance than it does a typical studio recording. It’s not something that I was expecting to hear in this single, but it probably made the biggest impact on me of anything present in the track.
Jon Dowling has come a long way since 2008’s Trials and Tribulations, and he’s inarguably found the perfect style to suit his unique sound in “Don’t Wanna Own the World.” What makes this song such a special moment for Dowling isn’t as much its radio-ready polish or surreal yet accessible lyrics, but rather what it says about his growth as a singer, songwriter and arranger. He’s putting all of his scholarly education and years of experience both inside and outside of the studio into his work, and while I’ve never disagreed with his output in the past, he’s gained a new level of respect from me with the release of his most recent music.